Homeless children forced to work in Tongrim prison camp 'converted' to orphanage

Seol Song Ah  |  2017-11-08 17:03
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Daily NK has learned that the North Korean authorities converted the Tongrim Correctional Labor Camp (also known as Camp 2) in North Pyongan Province into an orphanage last year. Prisoners formerly housed in Camp 2 were allegedly moved to the Kaechon Correctional Labor Camp (Camp 1) in South Pyongan Province two years prior, which was expanded by the authorities to increase its capacity.
A source in North Pyongan Province informed Daily NK on November 5 that "the efforts are part of Kim Jong Un's stated aim of showing the nation's 'love for its children.' Starting last year, the authorities began rounding up kkotjebi (homeless children) - commonly seen near markets, train stations, and main roads - and have sent them to the Tongrim site."
"Since the establishment of the Tongrim Orphanage, the number of homeless and wandering children in the Pyongan region has visibly dropped. Kids that used to crowd around the boiler rooms of restaurants to sleep at night have been rounded up and sent to the orphanage," he added.
But rather than a welfare program designed to help the children, the move is being seen as justification for forcing poor young North Koreans into hard labor. 
"The authorities have not established any kind of education programs for the hundreds of children being kept there. They have instead been mobilized to tend the fields. The central authorities have even passed the bills along to the local residents, forcing them to support the orphanage through various taxes," he added.
"Local residents must present grain, clothing, and other items to the orphanage. The authorities then give the children 3 paltry servings of cornmeal each day - barely enough to survive," 
Prior to the conversion, prisoners housed in the Tongrim Correctional Labor Camp (also known as a "re-education camp") were subjected to frequent beatings and forced to work under deplorable conditions, made worse by insufficient food rations. But due to increasing international focus on the North's human rights violations over the past few years, the government has launched efforts to conceal the abuses occurring in the countrys numerous prison camps. 
The regime may have believed that the Tongrim camp was visible to tourists in the area due to its close proximity to the border city of Sinuiju. The original prisoners were thus moved to the more isolated Kaechon Correctional Labor Camp in 2014, though its facilities were not expanded until 2016, noted the source. 
The authorities then established the orphanage in 2016. But instead of remodeling the facilities to resemble an actual orphanage, it appears that the children were moved into the very same conditions to which prisoners were subjected prior to the so-called conversion. 
"In all likelihood, the regime will attempt to improve the facilities later when relations with China improve and when more tourists begin flooding the area. They may turn the orphanage into a propaganda showpiece, ultimately hoping to convince international investors of their positive progress," a separate source in North Pyongan Province said.
He added that the authorities are also likely to be using the orphanage to funnel youths into military conscription, nothing that "dozens of kids, barely even 17 years old, were taken from the orphanage this past April and forced into Construction Brigades - military units tasked with building projects - regardless of their health status or physical ability."

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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